We’re now working actively with partners to help them move smoothly to Akvo FLOW 1.5.

To recap, Akvo FLOW is a mobile phone and online service that transforms field monitoring, using Android smartphones. Teams of people in development cooperation and aid networks can now monitor and evaluate initiatives in the world’s poorest and most remote places using location-aware mobile phone surveys. This helps everyone understand whether each project is making a difference and how they can be improved.

I wrote back in December about some of the key features this major release provides. From now on, Akvo FLOW is easier to use, and becoming easier to deploy at scale.

The rollout of Akvo FLOW 1.5 is happening in several phases. We are starting with close partners, some of whom have been using FLOW from the very beginning, that can help us test the new version and provide feedback. We’re also bringing online newer partners from our networks that are ready to begin collecting data in new projects and locations.

The first instances to be migrated will include Water For People’s FLOW instance, which covers 11 countries, WSP’s Liberia implementation, IRC’s Triple-S initiatives in Ghana and Burkina Faso, Water and Sanitation for Africa’s Ghana programme, and new implementations for Mars, the Millennium Water Alliance and our partners in the Dutch WASH and Connect4Change alliances. Various other programmes will come close behind, but we’re keen to handle things in a pragmatic and phased way so things work better for everyone involved. As we move through these implementations, I’ll aim to provide links and updates so you can see them in action.

More dashboards, less work.

Part of FLOW achieving scale is being able to increase the number of partners using it – which means increasing the number of dashboards we’re managing. Because of the way it was initially designed – to be used intensively by a small number of organisations – we had to do some re-engineering if we wanted it to scale.

A key goal for the ongoing development of Akvo FLOW is that it should be easy to create and manage large numbers of new dashboards, without multiplying our work. Until now 10 dashboards has been 10 times as much work to deploy. One of the goals with this release is to expand the number of dashboards without a proportionate expansion of the work involved in creating and supporting them. We’ve made a lot of improvements to the deployment process already, and will continue to make more in future releases, until we can seamlessly support hundreds of Dashboards.

Deployment isn’t generally well understood by non-techies – and people often underestimate how it important it is to do right – especially when you’re doing software development at scale. Deployment basically means taking the software code that’s in a code base and making it available to people to be used in their web browsers or their mobile phones.

In many ways, of course, deployment of software that is run as a service online, like Akvo does, is far easier than the old-style deployment that involved armies of techies visiting customers and spending perhaps several days upgrading their servers, crawling under desks to install software on PCs, and moving data from old to new databases. Akvo simply could not make the economics work if we had to travel to each customer site and install FLOW—and nor would we ever want that to be the case. Instead, most of the work is done at the server end, remotely – so partners simply see a new version of Akvo FLOW in their web browser, or on their Android phone.

Water For People migration

As the original pioneer of FLOW, Water For People will be leading the way in deploying the new version. They run one dashboard across the entire organisation – which makes it easier to manage centrally the surveys and also look at the data on the same map and compare data across surveys. Right now they have 11 country programmes using their dashboard. We’re working closely with Water For People’s Keri Kugler on the migration. Keri’s been involved since the very beginning of FLOW, having led the monitoring charge there before FLOW was even developed. There are three ways that Keri’s helping us. Leading up to the 1.5 release and now that it’s ready, Keri and her team have given us a lot of feedback to help us figure out how to reimagine the user experience and I’m expecting them to provide interesting feedback and tweaks on how to iron out bugs and issues with the new user experience. She’ll also help get the Field Survey application out to the Water For People field office staff who need it on their Android smartphones. Third, will be general training and support. Akvo is now starting to play a more direct role in helping train Water For People users, something that the organisation has until now handled itself. We’ll be doing FLOW 1.5 training in India and at the headquarters in Denver over the coming months.

Successful deployment should always take advantage of strong support from long time partners, who understand the hard work that’s gone into making improvements to the code base and feel a part of the development process. The ongoing development of Akvo FLOW wouldn’t have been possible without the support of key funders, including Cisco Inc, Hilton Foundation and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as we’ve worked to deliver what we set out to achieve in March last year. I hope they’ll be as excited as we are to see this great tool in people’s hands around the world.

Caetie Ofiesh is the product manager for Akvo FLOW, based in Washington D.C.